Angelo di Benedetto
(1913 - 1992)
The son of Italian immigrants from the Salerno province in southern Italy, as a teenager Angelo Di Benedetto worked as a truck driver in the mornings and a bartender in the afternoons to study at the Cooper Union Art School in New York City (1930-34) from which he graduated with a certificate in freehand drawing. He won a scholarship to the Boston Museum Art School where he studied for three years, beginning in 1934, with Russian émigré painter, Alexandre Jacovleff, a member of Mir Isskustva (World of Art) in St. Petersburg before the Russian Revolution. In 1936 he painted a religious mural for St. Michael's Grove in Paterson, New Jersey. The following year he entered his first juried exhibition at the Montclair Museum in New Jersey, winning first prize and first honorable mention.
In December 1938 the Royal Netherlands Steamship Line sent him on a two-month ethnological study trip to Haiti, his first exposure to a different environment outside the United States. During what turned out to be an extended six-month stay, he studied and painted the life and religious customs of the island, resulting in a series of colorful, stylized paintings inspired by his immersion in the local culture. He also did scenes of Port-au-Prince and executed commissions received from prominent people in Haiti, including government officials. In 1940 his Haitian paintings were exhibited at the Montross Gallery in New York (his first solo show) and also reproduced in the January 1940 issue of Life Magazine. One of his Haitian paintings, Morning in Port-au-Prince, was owned by an American author, politician and U.S. ambassador, Clare Boothe Luce, while another image, Haiti Post Office, was acquired for the Encyclopedia Britannica Collection and later donated to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Before World War II Di Benedetto traveled extensively around the United States in his car and trailer doing regional paintings. In 1941 he did what is considered the first authentic version of George Washington Crossing the Delaware, a contrast to the well-known painting on the same subject (1851) by German-born painter, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. During the war Di Benedetto volunteered for a secret mission to Africa in 1941 before the Allied invasion, serving as director of camouflage, foreman of native laborers and an interpreter while based in Eritrea. The following year he received a direct commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the First Photo Mapping Squadron, leading groups as a guide and interpreter and doing ground control. During his free time in Africa, he sketched and painted the local population and his fellow servicemen.
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